Cell phone leads Feds to presidential theft suspect

Posted at 12:13 AM, Nov 08, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-08 07:50:34-05

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) -A box truck carrying President Obama’s teleprompter and podium was found in Henrico a little over a year ago.

But the questions as to whether the items had been swiped and who had stolen the truck remained unanswered. Wednesday, Federal officials said they had those answers.

During a Fall 2011 presidential visit by President Barack Obama to Central Virginia, organizers had to go to a back-up plan after audio and visual equipment along with the presidential podium were swiped from a Courtyard by Marriott parking lot near Virginia Center Commons mall.

Days later, the equipment was found at a Holiday Inn Express near the airport.

The crime remained a mystery until federal investigators received a tip that a man had been bragging about the theft. Federal officials identified that man as 48-year-old Eric Brown.

“Anytime you're talking President of the United States, there's a possibility sensitive information may be involved, so that's why it was investigated so thoroughly," said CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone.

In a federal affidavit, agents spelled out how Brown became a suspect.  Around the time of the campaign stop, police had been working a few cases involving box trucks stolen from hotels.  Through their investigation, they learned of what they believed was a getaway vehicle.

Months later police got a tip from an informant, accusing Brown of selling a stolen laptop.  The informant also told agents he saw first-hand bins and other items with the presidential seal, but the affidavit states the feds’ smoking gun was a cell phone.

“Nowadays you have technology that states and the Feds can subpoena. They can go back and look at the date of the theft and see if the suspect’s phone was in that area.  It looks like they did that in this case, which makes it tougher to defend."

We went to several addresses where police say Brown once lived with his wife, but we had no luck tracking him down. Eric Brown is under the watch of U-S Marshals tonight.  No word on his next court date.